Max Verstappen wins F1 French GP as Charles Leclerc crashes

Should this Formula 1 season end with a whimper rather than a bang, the French Grand Prix will surely mark the moment when its explosive potential faded.

As the Circuit Paul Ricard sweltered under the scorching sun, it seemed the heat had gotten to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc – a momentary lapse, a moment of weakness and his title hopes were left in tatters. A moment expressed in a guttural, guttural cry of frustration.

The race was won for Red Bull by Max Verstappen, a driver who has had few such moments this year, while Leclerc crashed out of a comfortable lead to ensure Mercedes returned their best result of the season, with second and third for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. respectively.

For Leclerc the mistake was as unusual as it was almost painful to watch. Crashes in F1 rarely last more than seconds, but to witness it, time seemed to slow down.

With a lead of more than two seconds over Verstappen, the Monegasque driver held all the cards until, on lap 17, he simply cooked it at turn 11. Leclerc lost the rear of his Ferrari and, with a twitch and a nasty pirouette, he set sail for the wall. The car was deep into the barriers, the driver heartbroken as the meaning of his mistake hit home and screamed his rage into the ether and into the now ringing ears of his team.

This was great drama and human emotion to a great extent. Verstappen, for his part, continued to romp with serenity; unruffled and untroubled, but considerate enough to ask if Leclerc had escaped unscathed.

With all of Ferrari’s struggles this season, unreliability and poor strategic calls, the Scuderia can’t afford driver error to add to what will make fans see red and even casual observers of the ‘sport to yearn for some consistency in the team. if only for a worthy fight at the front.

With the Ferrari blazing fast from the start, Leclerc had taken a 46-point lead over Verstappen into the third round in Australia. There was talk of how Verstappen might return. However, Ferrari found a way to make it easier with failures and bad calls, so the Dutchman now enjoys a 63-point lead over Leclerc with 10 races to go.

It has now been considered how far Verstappen could end it. If Leclerc is not discouraged at this stage, he is made of stern stuff. A trait that will likely serve Ferrari well this season.

He was honest and absolutely damning in his assessment of what had happened. It was an acknowledgment of the enormity of his mistake that he admitted it had left his title ambitions in tatters.

“I tried to take too much on the outside and probably put a wheel somewhere dirty,” he said. “It’s my fault and if I keep making mistakes like this, I deserve not to win the championship.

“I’ve been saying that I think I’m performing at the highest level of my career, but if I keep making these mistakes, there’s no point in performing at a very high level. I’m losing too many points. It’s unacceptable, I just need to be on top of ‘these things’.

His failure ensured Verstappen’s seventh win of the season was easy. However, the early stages had suggested just how deep this fight could have been if Leclerc and Ferrari had stayed the course. Leclerc held the lead from pole, but he and Verstappen were inseparable on track, Leclerc driving a strong defensive line against the Dutchman who had a slightly superior race pace.

Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari lifts off the circuit. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

A long battle was expected only for all the tension to dissipate in a puff of gravel dust as Leclerc veered off the track. Verstappen was untouchable from there to the flag, minimizing his points lead.

Leclerc had made a small mistake at Imola, a spin while pushing for second, which dropped him to sixth. It cost him seven points, but he acknowledged that if the title is lost for those seven and the 25 he dropped here, he can only point to himself. He has championship pedigree, that’s for sure, but now in his fifth season, he’s been in Formula 1 long enough to know the vital role driver execution plays in turning it into titles.

Hamilton was very pleased to return another competitive race. With a better pace than he had in qualifying, he still couldn’t catch Verstappen, but it was a solid and well-deserved second. His team-mate Russell was also combative, enjoying an intense battle with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who finished fourth, before the Briton was pitted at Turn 14 after a late restart in virtual safety car to opportunistically occupy the final place on the podium.

Mercedes have stuck to their task then, but their championship is gone and they know it. Leclerc can at least cling to some hope, but it will be scant consolation for a driver who demands better of himself. Putting this particular painful moment behind you will be key if you want to come back and restart this fight.

Carlos Sainz was fifth for Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were sixth and eighth for Alpine, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo seventh and ninth for McLaren, and Lance Stroll finished tenth for Aston Martin.

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